J. E. Finley

Language is a peculiar thing. Without it we could not communicate with one another but on the other hand the different speech patterns used by various groups of people very often interfere with the understanding we are trying to achieve. As a young man in the U.S. Navy I was sent to New Port, Rhode Island. One Saturday afternoon I went into a local ice cream store and ordered a milk shake. I was very surprised to learn that no one in the store knew what I meant. After a lengthy discussion we discovered that what a West Texas farm boy called a milk shake, a Rhode Island "soda jerk" called a "cabinet." Now I always thought that the cabinet was where my mother put her dishes but I quickly learned to order a "cabinet" if I wanted a milk shake in Rhode Island. Later in my Navy career I was stationed in Seattle, Washington and learned that in that area a cabinet is neither a milk shake nor a place to store dishes. In that area they stored dishes in the cupboard and a cabinet was a piece of furniture. This illustrates how the same word may be used differently, creating a problem for clear understanding.

Language is constantly changing and a society will, because of current events change the use of words and alter their meaning. Consider the use of "gay." In our present society this word has been substituted for homosexual, pervert, deviate and lesbian. This is an attempt to make reference to that kind of person "sound" better and therefore more acceptable to the society. In the same manner, people speak of teenagers being "sexually active" rather than say that they commonly commit fornication. It may "sound" better, but I am afraid no matter what we call it, sin is still sin and fornication is still fornication.

In another area, consider the Russian and U.S. diplomats who meet for long discussions and then report that the primary goal of both their countries is "peace." This "SOUNDS" like there is agreement but to the Russians peace means a world dominated by communism which is (or at least should be) the last thing that the U.S. representative wants. The difference in understanding of terms results in gross misunderstanding.

It is my observation that among people who comprise the Church of Christ in America there is a very unique "language" which has evolved over the years. I do not pretend to know the origin of the unique meaning of all these words, but I can identify the presence of some of them. In some instances, as far as I can tell, there is no harm done by using these words which we have given a unique meaning. In other instances it interferes with understanding each other and in some instances it interferes with understanding the Bible.

Consider the following examples of words defined as we often use them:

ANTI: One who disagrees with us on a doctrinal matter. This is applied to those whom we think disagree with us even when we don't know what the difference might be. Anti, of course, is not a word but a prefix meaning one opposed. We use it carelessly and excessively and have, in our language, made it not only a word but a derogatory title. When I hear a person refer to another as "anti" I usually ask "anti what?" The answer is usually an embarrassed, "Oh, you know, just anti."

BRING: To preach, teach or deliver a dissertation on a Bible subject. Thus we say that "Brother Doe, our Local Minister, will bring the message today." After he has done that, we pat him on the back and say "You sure brought a fine lesson," - even if we slept through it.

I don't know how or why this word came to be used in this manner. We don't say that our school teachers "bring" a lesson but we use it in this manner only to denote religious teaching. There appears to be no particular harm in this because we all seem to understand. It is like ordering a cabinet to get a milk shake - no harm but a little strange.

BROTHER: A title of respect or fraternal designation almost always conferred upon the preacher and certain other males. For example the preacher would be addressed as "Brother" Joe Doe and in announcements made before a public assembly most any male will be called "Brother."

Some may object to this word being capitalized, but we use it as a title and in that capacity it should be capitalized. The New Testament writers did not use brother or sister in this manner. I have a sister (in the flesh) but I never address her as Sister although I certainly would introduce her as "my sister." Why do we use this word as we do? We use it as a title! There should be no titles among us for we are all at the same level. It does no good to deny that this is a title so long as we use it as a title.

CHRISTIAN: An adjective denoting a gentle, humble, or helpful person. Highly moral or decent.

This word is used only as a noun in the Bible. Thus the disciples were "called Christians." We use it mostly as an adjective and apply it to many things around us. It is interesting to hear people comment that "He is a good Christian man but he just will not obey the truth." Then we have Christian schools, Christian camps, Christian colleges, Christian papers or magazines, Christian training, Christian nations, etc. We are told to lead a Christian life and to establish a Christian home. Why not stay with the example of the inspired writers and let Christian mean a follower of Christ?

CHURCH: (a) A building used by a Local Church. (b) The "services" of a Local Church. (c) A Local Church. (d) The Church Universal Thus, we "go to Church," 'attend Church," "miss Church," "have Church, "place membership in the Church," "support the Church," "take the Church to foreign countries," "start a Church," etc.

This is probably the most abused and misused word in our vocabulary. Ecclesia [incorrectly translated "church" in our Bibles) as used by the inspired writers was a common, ordinary, "everyday" word as evidenced by its use in Acts 19:32, 39, and 41, where it is correctly translated assembly. It had absolutely no religious connotation but simply meant group or one of its synonyms. When we use "church" it always has religious connotation, therefore we always use it differently than ecclesia was used by the inspired writers. Ecclesia simply means a group or gathering of people. It is not until we add "of Christ" or "of God" that there is religious meaning.

Another myth connected with this word is that it has a local, regional, national, and universal sense. Again, it only means group, crowd, etc. It is no more local or universal than the word people. If we say "people" we convey no sense of location. If we say "people of the United States" there is location. If we say "people of Texas" we have more specific location but we still have only people. We should use this word (ecclesia or its English translation) to mean "group," because that is what it meant to the inspired writers. Modifiers or the context will indicate which group. To do otherwise interferes with our understanding of God's truth.

CHURCH, LOCAL: An organized group of God's people meeting at a designated place and at designated times, having its own treasury to which the members of the group contribute. In its mature form, always has its own full time Minister, Elders, Deacons and building.

It is common to hear this term used as though it means a local chapter of a larger organization but this idea is not found in the Bible. "The church of God at Corinth" does not refer to an organizational unit but rather to God's people who are in Corinth.

CHURCH, UNIVERSAL: All Local Churches.

See comments at CHURCH.

CONGREGATION: A Local Church. Often used by someone who is concerned about using the word church improperly. Thus one will say: "What congregation do you attend?" Or: "This congregation of the Church of Christ...."

Congregation is the English equivalent of the Greek word ecclesia. It does not mean church. It means group, company, crowd or group of the group. Congregation is not a synonym is equivalent to saying a church of the church, crowd of the crowd or group of the group. Congregations not a synonym for the meaning we have given the word church in our everyday speech. See comments at CHURCH, LOCAL and CHURCH.

CONSERVATIVE: One who opposes change and is inclined to keep things as they are. A Christian (or Local Church) who "holds" closely to the truth as presented in the New Testament.

Most Christians and most Local Churches claim to be conservative and certainly they should because the teaching which we profess to follow (God's Word) does not change. To speak of someone as a conservative Christian would be a redundancy because a Christian now should be exactly what a Christian was in the days of the apostles.

DEVOTIONAL: A social gathering featuring a short period of worship usually consisting of a sermonette and prayer. Sometimes called "a devotion" or simply "devo" and usually attended by or given for "the youth."

Certainly, there is no opposition to sermons either long or short and worship is to be commended. By the same token, social gatherings are proper when conducted properly. But why do we think we need to entice people with cookies and ice cream? The power is in the word!

EVANGELIST: A person who preaches in a country other than his homeland. Thus a citizen of the U.S. preaching in England and a citizen of Great Britain preaching in the U.S. would both be Evangelists. Also used to denote a preacher in his own country who goes to an area where there are no known Christians. A title given to one who preaches.

An evangelist is one who proclaims good news, in this case the gospel of Christ. It does not signify anything with regard to location. All Christians should be evangelists because all Christians are to proclaim the good news at every opportunity.

EVANGELIST, LOCAL: The Minister or Preacher for a Local Church.

FELLOWSHIP: A social activity given for and attended by members of a Local Church.

There is nothing wrong with social activity and there is a sense in which it is fellowship because it is sharing together. That, however, is not the Bible fellowship. When the apostle John said, "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another," he was not talking about social activity. He was talking about believing, obeying, and serving Christ and thus sharing the same beliefs and purpose in life.

LIBERAL: At opposite extreme from conservative. A person or Local Church favoring progress, reforms and changes "to fit the times" as opposed to a strict and unchanging interpretation of the scriptures. This is usually said of other Local Churches or Christians because we each claim to be conservative in our thinking. Liberal Christian would be a contradiction within itself because anyone holding to the unchanging word of God would also be unchanging or conservative.

MEMBERSHIP, TO PLACE: The act of joining, or becoming a member of a Local Church usually consisting of a request to do so made by the joining party and accepted by the Local Preacher or Minister.

This idea is found nowhere in God's word. It apparently stems from the idea that the Local Church is an organized club or chapter controlling its own membership in the manner that a fraternal organization would. It is interesting to note that there are two groups who are not required to place membership in order to become members of a Local Church. The Local Minister and his family are for some reason exempt and people who are baptized by a member of the Local Church are exempt. Anyone else must comply in order to receive all the rights and privileges of membership in the Local Church. We are members of Christ's body in the sense that lungs or ears are members of our physical body. A person who is in the proper relationship with Christ (the head), is a member of His body every minute of every day without regard to physical location. Such a person has no need to join or apply for membership in anything and to require such is to add to God's word.

MINISTER: The senior and usually fulltime employee of a Local Church. The preacher. The one who conducts, directs, and is the main "player" in the "services" of the Local Church. He is hired at a negotiated salary and is held responsible for preaching, visiting the sick and backsliders, and generally promoting the cause of his employer, the Local Church. His success or failure is usually measured by an increase or decrease in attendance and/or contribution. Thus members of a Local Church will speak of "our Minister."

Not many years ago most preachers would vehemently deny that they were hirelings or employees. Today they not only admit it but in many cases clamor for more "employee benefits" and compete for the higher pay and more glamorous jobs. Minister is used as a title rather than a description of what a person does. It was never meant to be a title. Paul said to Timothy, "If you will instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed." Note that nothing is said about employer-employee relationships, negotiated salaries, fringe benefits, being a stage director, or being public relations director for the organization that pays his salary.

PREACHER: One who preaches or "brings" a lesson as part of the "services" of the Local Church. Minister. Evangelist.

We normally don't hear this used as a title although it refers to the same person we call Evangelist and Minister. Titles are strange things. Consider that we will say: "John Doe is Minister of the Such and Such Church of Christ," or "John Doe is the Local Evangelist at Such and Such Church of Christ" but "Brother" Doe is the preacher. For some strange reason, when we call the man a preacher we feel compelled to supply another title.

SERVICES: A religious ritual or ceremony conducted by a Local Church. Usually consists of singing, prayer, preaching, making contribution to the Church Treasury, and eating the Lord's Supper. Thus we call those who missed services and encourage them to attend the next services, etc. We say that the Local Church conducts, has, or holds services at 10:30 a.m.

This is another of those strange things that has evolved among a people who claim to "speak where the Bible speaks." Nowhere are we told to conduct or attend services. We are told to serve God with our life. When we come together for prayer, singing, teaching, study, and/or to take the Lord's Supper we are serving God. We are not conducting or attending services. When we work to provide for our family, when we care for our children, when we do good to all men, we are serving God. We are to give our life to God and serve Him. We should not merely attend "services."

TREASURY, CHURCH: A fund of money belonging to the Local Church. The Lord's money. Income into this fund is provided by contributions given by the members "to the Church" after which it becomes the "Lord's money." Disbursements are made from the fund only at the direction of the Elders who control all spending of the Lord's money.

The inspired writers nowhere gave us instructions to or an example of individual Christians giving money "to the Church." They were told in various instances to give to those who were needy and to those who were in need of support because they labored in the gospel. The monies were gathered and sent to the particular need but this does not imply a continuing working fund under the control of a senior board or executive group. Some will say "But how can you operate without a treasury?" It just might be that we are not supposed to "operate."

WORK, THE: The job or position of Minister of a Local Church. Thus preachers will comment that on a certain date they "began the work" or "took the work" at a certain location.

Certainly the Bible speaks of "the work" and just as certainly the meaning is preaching the word. It does not mean being hired to work for a Local Church. (See Minister).

Many will say that the above comments are cynical, harsh or perhaps even ridiculous but I appeal to each reader to reflect upon his own experience as objectively as possible. I recognize that it is difficult to question that which is familiar. As one who "grew up in the church" I have heard most of the above for years and I understand. It is not easy to question our own traditions and change well established habits. We need to try, we need to study, we need to be calmly objective. If we are not following the Bible pattern, we need to change.

We have all heard the words above used in the manner defined and most of us have used at least some of them in that manner. In some cases there is no particular harm done but there are some words, however, which we may redefine by our usage and effectively alter the word of God. This becomes a very serious matter (Rev. 22:18 & 19). We must be careful because language is a constantly changing thing. These changes can slip into our use without notice and cause us to misinterpret the Bible. Therefore we need to be alert and seriously question our own beliefs on a continuing basis.

Anyone who has studied the Bible at all knows that the old Israelite nation strayed from God's word time and again. History does indeed repeat itself and human nature remains what it has always been. Therefore, we can conclude that we are in constant danger of straying just as they did. One will also remember that the Jews of the first century were so committed to their traditions that they could not comprehend the simple message of the gospel. Is it possible that we, too, have established our traditions and therefore having eyes we do not see and having ears, we do not hear? Consider these matters with an open mind and an open Bible is my plea.